This writer has written a powerful and accurate piece – sosdenver
Why is this so confusing??
By Rebecca Spiess The Denverite 7/28/2021
Developer Westside Investment Partners, which bought what used to be Park Hill Golf Course in 2019, got a measure approved for the November ballot on Tuesday. It’s a counter-measure to an initiative submitted by an opposing group called Save Open Space Denver.
The two organizations have been at odds about the future of the 155 acres of green space in Northeast Denver for years now. SOS Denver wants all of the space turned into a park, while Westside wants to build a mixed-use development, promising some park space, too.
SOS Denver cites the city’s lack of green space as a reason against development, and believes that Westside will go back on its promises. Westside, meanwhile, argues that SOS Denver isn’t listening to nearby residents’ need for things like grocery stores and affordable housing.
Greater Park Hill Community Newsletter June 1 2020
From the Greater Park Hill Community Newsletter
Two Critical Words
As a lifelong Park Hill resident, a Greater Park Hill Community board member and an active member of Save Open Space Denver, I’m writing in response to Kenneth Ho’s guest opinion piece in the May edition regarding land speculator and real estate developer Westside Investment Partners’ development plans for the Park Hill Golf Course land. Mr. Ho is one of Westside’s owners and Westside’s point person trying to convince our community that Westside should be able to build a mini-city on the invaluable 155-acre open space.
Glaringly, Mr. Ho failed to use the two critical words – “conservation easement” – anywhere in his opinion piece. Mr. Ho, Westside, and the Hancock administration want to pretend that there are no legal impediments to their development plans.
Here are the undisputable facts: In 1997, Denver taxpayers paid $2 million for the perpetual open space conservation easement that forever protects the Park Hill Golf Course land from being developed. The “conservation purposes” of the conservation easement are to conserve the land “as open space” and “to maintain [the land’s] scenic and open condition and to preserve [the land] for recreational use.”
The PRAB approved the below recommendations to the DPR Executive Director Happy Haynes which include a recommendation that the city acquire the PHGC land for a park.
Approved by Parks and Recreation Advisory Board May13, 2020
We, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, recommend to the Executive Director the following for 2020 and 2021:
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, we recommend immediately and indefinitely:
An immediate increase in funding for rangers, maintenance, and sanitary facilities (e.g., hand-washing stations and restrooms) on DPR land including parks, trails and parkways. Evaluate and establish protocols and potential safety measures that consider any additional health and safety procedures (e.g., equipment cleaning, etc.).
Consideration of access to our municipal golf courses for pedestrian use of the paved golf cart trails.
Pursuit of the purchase of the Park Hill Golf Course open space at current market value using the unspent funds from 2019 158-2A tax collections ($26.565 million). We understand that this would be a departure from our earlier recommendations; we feel that the current economic conditions and our current cash-rich position enable us to acquire this land and we see it as a very important addition to our park system. Our intention is to recommend the purchase of this land and to recommend its preservation as zoned open space (OS). The land’s use, whether as a golf course and/or other recreational uses, should be determined through the regular DPR public outreach process after the land is acquired.
Achieve and implement a pilot cooperative relationship with DPS for the purpose of developing a significant amenity and/or property access consistent with Game Plan’s goal of ten-minute accessibility.
As you surely know, Save Open Space Denver is comprised of the residents of Northeast Park Hill, North Park Hill, South Park Hill, as well as concerned residents of many other Denver neighborhoods. Our members range in age from their twenties through their eighties, and every age in between. We are all of diverse backgrounds and cultures, reflecting the diversity for which Greater Park Hill is renowned. Many work hard at their jobs, some are retired; all have families, and love our community, just as you do. There is not a single paid member. We are all volunteers dedicated to our unified purpose of preserving the last large urban open space with mature trees left in Denver, fortuitously located in the section of Denver with the greatest need for it. The reason the conservation easement protecting the Park Hill Golf Course land was created was to preserve this jewel, in whole, so that it wouldn’t continue to be broken up into small pieces until nothing remained.
Westside Investment Partners (note: they are investors first and foremost — they hire the developers, urban planners, lobbyists and public relations consultants as needed — many of whom perhaps have been in touch with you already) has one goal — to remove all obstacles to turning their $24 million plus investment into a profitable income stream for their investors. That is fine — that’s what commerce is all about. However, their interests do not always align with the best interests of the city or more critically, the community. This is one such case. We understand and completely agree that there is a critical need for mixed income, workforce and affordable housing in Northeast Park Hill and other amenities desired by the community. And had Westside chosen to spend $24 million buying up some of the many available vacant or underutilized industrial properties on either side of Colorado Boulevard, including in Skyland, Clayton, or Northeast Park Hill, we would have applauded their vision and commitment to improving the quality of life in our community. But no, they chose the one health-giving open space that has been the jewel of Park Hill for 90 years — the most obvious candidate for becoming a welcome addition to our parks system — targeting it to come under the blade of a bulldozer.
Save Open Space Denver is not anti-development. We are pro-smart development. Green field development will necessitate outlandishly expensive infrastructure spending, paid for entirely by the future property buyers. Since this cost is buried into future property taxes from Metro Tax Districts (controlled by the developer, not the city) rather than being reflected in the selling price of the residences, buyers are lured into purchasing homes that might at first blush appear to be a bit of a stretch, but doable (if you consider $550,000 starting prices affordable), but in reality may strain the finances of all but the upper middle class or wealthier clientele. That is the formula for gentrification. Meeting the need for truly affordable, mixed use and workforce housing would be better served if they were built on properties that already provide much of the infrastructure otherwise missing from open space — roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, power, etc. This is available just a few blocks away from the 40th and Colorado Blvd. commuter rail station, leaving in place the conservation easement and Park Hill Golf Course land unmolested — to some day become the public park for which it is ideally suited.
Save Open Space Denver strenuously opposes the apparent plan of the Community Planning and Development Department to initiate a small area planning process for the Park Hill Golf Course land. The land is protected by the perpetual open space conservation easement that cannot be terminated without a court order determining that based on changes on or surrounding the land since July 11, 2019 it is impossible to fulfill the conservation purposes of the easement. These conservation purposes are to maintain the land “predominantly in a natural, scenic, or open condition…or for…recreational…or other use or condition consistent with the protection of open land, environmental quality or life-sustaining ecological diversity.” As long as the conservation easement is in place, it is a waste of city and citizen resources for CPD to do a small area planning process for the land.
Furthermore, if CPD does in the future initiate some kind of planning process for land that includes the Park Hill Golf Course land, the planning area would properly need to be a significantly larger geographic area east and west of the protected Park Hill Golf Course land likely centered on the 40th and Colorado Blvd. commuter rail station. Such a planning area would allow the city and the involved neighborhoods to address the full range of community needs and desires and identify the appropriate places for residential and commercial development.
Finally, the residents of Denver do not owe a land speculation company any special favors in order to break a covenant made 23 years ago just so the speculator can recover from bad judgment or hubris in picking a controversial location to construct its next investment property.
An editorial appearing in the Denver Post 11-13-2019 by Mayor Wellington Webb
The definition of the word conservation is “prevention of wasteful use of a resource,” and Colorado conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements that permanently limit uses of land in order to protect its conservation values for future generations. Until June of this year, Colorado conservation easements like the one that preserves the Park Hill Golf Course land open space could be terminated simply with the mutual agreement of the two parties that created them.
In 2017 the Denver city administration and the landowner, Clayton Trust, thought they would be able to terminate the conservation easement between themselves simply with a wink and a nod and city council approval. Had it not been for Arcis Golf, the company that operated the golf course crying foul, termination of that agreement would have flown under the radar, tucked into a measure for a vote by Denver City Council to approve the sale and development of that 155-acre, tree-filled green space.
Then, in July, Westside Investment Partners, Inc., a real estate development company, purchased the Park Hill Golf Course land for a price far in excess of the land’s appraised value, encumbered as the land was with a perpetual conservation easement and “open space-recreation zoning” in place. They speculated that they would be able to terminate the easement and change the open space-recreation zoning easily — but they were wrong.
This year the Colorado General Assembly took action with a dedicated group of conservation-minded nonprofit land trusts — members of the statewide coalition Keep It Colorado — to successfully strengthen the law governing the termination of conservation easements. On June 30, 2019, House Bill 1264 amended the Colorado conservation easement statute. HB 1264 establishes a higher standard for the entire state and puts the true intent of perpetual conservation easements into practice.
The city of Denver is ready to end the legal conflicts that have ensnared a valuable piece of property in the city’s northeast. But a proposed settlement may be just the beginning of a long and contentious political fight over the future of the Park Hill Golf Club.
The property — a rare 155-acre chunk of open space in an urbanizing city — has been through a head-spinning series of legal maneuvers over the last few years. It has been the prize for intense wrangling between its former nonprofit owner, the city government and a for-profit golf company, and the subject of a couple lawsuits.
The developer Westside Investment Partners bought the land this summer for $24 million, but it still was shadowed by legal disputes. On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Hancock’s office announced that a proposed agreement “would end litigation involving the property.”
The settlement will not allow any development on the land. Only a vote of City Council can do that. “We wanted a guarantee that Denver would have a right to provide input about the property’s future,” Hancock said in a news release.
The biggest legal questions include a lawsuit over an ongoing city flood-control project on the land. Early this year, the city took possession of about 35 acres of the course to complete the project. The parent of the former golf course operator, Arcis Golf, sued the city for damaging its business.
The new owner, Westside, took over that lawsuit. City officials wouldn’t say whether the settlement included a payment from the city to Westside, saying that the agreement wasn’t final yet.